Short Stories 366:53 — “L’Alchemista,” by N.K. Jemisin

coverOkay, food as magic was such a clever notion, but who knew roasted firebird could sound so mouth-watering? Roast phoenix anyone? I’m serious, if you’re going to read this story—or, as in my case, listen to it—make sure you’ve already eaten, because I was walking the dog and by the time I got home I was freaking ravenous.

So! “L’Alchemista.” This story, from the How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? audiobook, drops us alongside a chef—formerly a head chef at Parliament, “before
that bastard Berlusconi, anyhow”—who, after firing her assistants and closing the restaurant where she works for the night has a strange visitor. He seems old and potentially homeless, but she offers him a meal and his response to her cooking makes it clear he has a brilliant palate and understanding of fine food.

And then he issues her a challenge. He will leave her ingredients—truly rare ingredients—if she agrees to follow a recipe perfectly and make something for him. She can’t resist (in part because she is so frustrated and stymied by her current life) and agrees, and then sees these ingredients aren’t all things she’s even heard of before.

What follows is a brilliant little story about creativity, freedom, magic, food, passion, and so many other intersections of culture and strength and what it’s like to be shut off from something you are truly gifted at. And I freaking loved it.

Just, again, fair warning: the descriptions of even the completely fictional food will make your mouth water. Eat something first.

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